Intuition and Algorithm in Glass’s Einstein on the Beach
The common view of early minimalist music is that it was a style based in natural processes and strict algorithms, a paradigm of “listening to nature.” A more detailed look at Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach, however, reveals much more leeway than one would expect in terms of intuitive shaping and expressive nuance on a structural level. Some scenes follow a mechanistic pattern from beginning to end, others trace and retrace more circuitous paths through a free set of possibilities – and yet these two modes differ so little in listening experience as to cast some doubt on the relevance of distinctions between algorithm versus intuition in musical patterning. This paper will summarize the scenes of Einstein in terms of the processes involved, showing how finely tuned Glass’s repetition patterns were for eliciting the kind of actively engaging stasis early minimalism sought so successfully.
Frits van der Waa
Einstein in the Press
Einstein on the Beach made a big splash in 1976. This talk will offer a survey of the reviews of the original and the new production and investigate the reception history of Glass’s opera.
Will it get some wind for the sailboat? The Life and Times of Postopera
There is no plot in Einstein on the Beach and there is no linear narration. The largest part of the libretto text consists of the names of numbers and solfège syllables that are repetitively sung by members of the choir throughout the piece. Only a few spoken texts were used, among them the non-narrative text written by Christopher Knowles. Also, there are no characters that sing, or characters that have a narrative function. The figure of Albert Einstein is used in various situations in the piece. Paradoxically, the title character appears only as signifier – like a mute figure playing violin, not the character of the ’story’, as one might have expected had Einstein on the Beach been a conventional dramatic piece. Einstein explicitly shows that opera is not necessarily an illustration of a dramatic text. The search for unity between music and drama has been abandoned, the dramatic principle is deconstructed, and operatic texts (libretto, music, staging) are not in a strict hierarchical position. In this paper I take Einstein as example of postopera, opera that is postdramatic and postmodern, and I furthermore explore the world of postopera examining its status and function.
Einstein on the Beach: Robert Wilson’s Humanistic Formalism
Notwithstanding his apparent mistrust of psychological realism, Robert Wilson’s visionary work has a profound emotional impact. Wilson’s and Philip Glass’ 1976 masterpiece Einstein on the Beach is a fine example of the director’s humanism, which involves the spectator in an understanding of both art and life as a mystical journey, disquieting –no doubt– but ultimately thrilling and rewarding. Wilson’s aesthetic as well as structural tenets are consistently formalist; yet, what makes this monumental piece humanistic –in the sense that is helps gradually reveal our own frailty, humor and potential for greatness –is Wilson’s commitment to the following principles: • Beauty: his “angled” visuality is deeply celebratory of the human nature; • Transcendence, viewed as the courage to conceive of a universe beyond what is said and seen, a universe expanding into the realm of ambiguity and marvel; • Universals: symbolic representations of history as a “multi-cultural, ethnological, archaeological kaleidoscope” (Lehmann 79); • Dreams, providing the comfort of escaping from the structures of reality; • And finally, metamorphosis, understood as the capacity to alter one’s perception of the ordinary, thus satisfying our inherent need for transformation and life-affirming change.
Performing Viewing, Emancipated Spectatorship or Usership of Einstein on the Beach
Minimalist art object of 1960's required physical engagement, enactment or performance of viewing from its spectators – what Michael Fried assigns to its theatricality in Art and Objecthood, a text that represents a colapse of modernist critique – and modernist conception of disinterested spectator. What kind of task does a minimalist opera Einstein on the Beach put in front of its audience? And did it and how that position change more than 30 years afterwards? In the light of century-old strategies for de-pasivisation of theatre audiences, how does Einstein on the Beach deal with emancipated spectator (Rancière) in the age of user? And how conflicted spectatorship and usership as two concepts of reception really are?
‘Dance’ as ‘democratic baroque’
The analysis of "Dance", a performance of Lucinda Childs’s that was made in 1979, a few years after "Einstein on the beach" shows how baroque compositional methods were deeply engrained in her choreographic work, and in that way met the music of Glass or the theater of Wilson. Baroque proves to be a much more suitable term for this work than "minimalism", a movement in visual arts the work was often associated with at the time of its creation. However, the collaboration with Sol Lewitt revealed a different and altogether new perspective (which can be understood literally) on the baroque tradition. For this reason, I proposed to label "Dance" as "democratic baroque".
What Einstein Sings: A Voice and a Series of Sounds that Speaks
What does Einstein sing in Einstein on the Beach, a landmark opera by Philip Glass and Robert Wilson? Numbers and syllables, fast-forwarded and punctuated vocables, drones, and tunes that do not always resolve into flowing melodies. Apart from short narrations, the opera includes a chorus of sung and spoken sounds, which are mostly disembodied, built in the musical texture and instrumentation. Neither fully synchronized nor fully syncopated with one another, the chorus gives a voice, a volume to the choreographed bodies, images, movements and gestures. The vocal parts appear both as peripheral moments and as central markers of the non-plot of the piece. Embodied in the multi-media set-up, such use of singing simultaneously unfolds and constitutes Einstein’s voice as a series of multiple sounds, as a voice that consists of many other voices. In line with the genealogy of the avant-garde and experimental vocal performance, Einstein on the Beach then anchors singing as an expanded form of speech. In my presentation, I will discuss this notion.
Einstein on the Beach as neosurrealist collage and postheroic drama
This presentation views Einstein on the Beach through the lens of several current theoretical perspectives, including ideas about technology, the posthuman and neosurrealism. I start by asking, if the Einstein of this opera is a heroic figure, what sort of a hero is he? Both music and dramatic presentation recast existing tropes of the heroic in such a way that they are divorced from expected contexts. Qualities such as perseverance, strength and heroic scale and grandeur are conveyed by musical means such as orchestration as well as staple minimalist techniques such as process and repetition rather than through convention representations of the musical “subject”. The question of heroism and perhaps postheroism is further unpacked with reference to ideas about technological mediation and agency: what does it mean that the movements of actors and of musical sounds and forms are “mechanical”? And what does this tell us about subjectivity at the time of composition through to the present day? Alongside the other portrait operas, I interpret Einstein as a work of neosurrealist collage for the (pre)digital age; as a form of embodied virtuality (Hayles) that recognizes the “liberal human subject” even while it articulates this very notion with markedly posthuman means.